COVID-19 and Medical Treatment
If an employee does not want to go to the employer-authorized physician to treat their work injury for fear of contracting COVID-19, can you force them to go? What are your options?
We believe the answer to this question depends on a number of factors. If the doctor’s appointment is for medical treatment, we believe the answer is no, you cannot force them to go. In general, an employer cannot suspend or terminate an employee’s workers’ compensation benefits for his/her refusal to obtain medical treatment. However, there is some Iowa Supreme Court precedent which suggests a claimant’s entitlement to permanent partial disability benefits can be reduced if the employee refused reasonable treatment that did not seriously endanger the claimant’s life or health and which was reasonably certain to cure or minimize the employee’s disability. We believe this will be analyzed under a reasonableness standard. For example, a claimant with a pre-existing condition or other personal factors that make them more susceptible to the virus might have an easier time arguing their refusal was reasonable under the circumstances.
On the other hand, if the appointment is for an evaluation pursuant to Iowa Code section 85.39 (oftentimes referred to as an “independent medical evaluation”), the analysis then becomes whether an employee’s refusal to attend was reasonable under the circumstances such that their workers’ compensation benefits are not forfeited under section 85.39 (as opposed to a reduced PPD award). Again, we believe a reasonableness standard will apply. It may be wise, depending on the situation with regards to the claimant’s treatment, to see if the physician could do a records review or simply answer your questions in a letter format rather than having the doctor actually evaluate the claimant. Then, you can re-evaluate whether an actual in-person examination is necessary later on down the road when COVID-19 is more under control.
No Legal Advice Intended
The contents of this newsletter are intended to convey general information only and not to provide legal advice or opinions. The contents of this newsletter should not be construed as, and should not be relied upon for, legal advice in any particular circumstance or fact situation. The information presented in this newsletter may not reflect the most current legal developments. No action should be taken in reliance on the information contained in this newsletter and our firm disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the contents of this newsletter to the fullest extent permitted by law. For any specific legal issues, please contact one of our attorneys and they will be happy to answer any questions you may have.